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Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Chad Pennington visits Jets camp

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Amid the hysteria over their Wildcat offense, the New York Jets invited a voice of calm to training camp on Tuesday.

PenningtonFor a quarterback to gripe about whether he's getting in rhythm or not ... grab the football and make a play. That's what it's about.

-- Chad Pennington, discussing the use of the Wildcat package in games

They welcomed back Chad Pennington, good-will ambassador of the Wildcat.

The former Jets quarterback enjoyed perhaps his best NFL season in 2008, when he played for the Miami Dolphins and coach Tony Sparano, who is attempting to recreate Wildcat magic in his first season as the Jets' offensive coordinator.

Pennington spent the day with the Jets, watching practice and attending quarterback meetings. He has become a mentor to Mark Sanchez, and he spent time during practice talking to Tim Tebow on the sideline.

With his old team planning to use a two-quarterback system, which critics say is a controversy waiting to happen, Pennington was the ideal person to preach the positives of the Wildcat and Sparano's system.

He disputed the notion, floated by wide receiver Santonio Holmes before training camp, that a two-quarterback system will disrupt the starter's rhythm.

"I think that's selfish," Pennington said after practice. "If you think as a quarterback this game is solely about you, I think you're sadly mistaken. This is the greatest team game ever invented.

"For a quarterback to gripe about whether he's getting in rhythm or not ... grab the football and make a play. That's what it's about."

That, of course, is music to Rex Ryan's ears.

Even though there have been no signs of hard feelings, the Jets are only one slip of the tongue away from a controversy. They need Sanchez and Tebow to buy in.

Pennington said the Jets have the ability to write a "neat story, a good, solid success story ... This situation can be the epitome of what this game is all about. We try to individualize this game with fantasy football and stats and numbers. But this game is about the people in the locker room."

Pennington was unceremoniously released by the Jets in August, 2008, when they traded for Brett Favre, but he reconnected with them in February. He and Sanchez hooked up for study sessions at a hotel in South Florida, near Pennington's home. Pennington, always known as a cerebral player, gave Sanchez the lowdown on Sparano and his philosophy.

Early Tuesday morning, Pennington met with the man who cut him -- general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- in the lobby of a Cortland hotel and they drove to training camp. Bygones were bygones. Tannenbaum extended the invitation recently in Canton, Ohio, where they both attended Curtis Martin's Hall-of-Fame induction.

Pennington said the Wildcat could be a "great weapon" for the Jets, and he should know. In 2008, the Dolphins ran an NFL-high 89 Wildcat plays, averaging 6.5 yards per play and scoring a total of eight touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sparked by the Wildcat, the Pennington-led Dolphins won the AFC East, tying a league record for fewest turnovers in a season.

"If we can protect the football like that ... oh, man," Ryan said.

Pennington said the Wildcat shouldn't require any adjustment if the players are focused on winning. Of course, he didn't have to share the quarterback duties in 2008. The Jets are planning to use Tebow in the Wildcat, in some cases replacing Sanchez on the field.

Pennington doesn't see that as a problem.

"If the Wildcat allows you to win and be more successful, you should be all for it as a player," said Pennington, whose career ended in 2010 because of multiple shoulder injuries.

The Jets created national headlines Monday by practicing the Wildcat for the first time, albeit amid a shroud of secrecy. It's a polarizing concept, with critics saying it's a gimmicky offense that won't work anymore.

Enter, Pennington. It was a perfectly timed appearance that seemed almost like a PR move by the team.

"It was great having him out there," Ryan said. "It was fantastic."

Pennington addressed the Jets after practice, stressing the importance of teamwork. Later, he told reporters that he's "invested" in the Jets because of his relationship with Sanchez. They share a bond: They know how hard it is to play in the New York market.

"From what I've seen from afar and now being here, Mark is throwing the ball better than I've even seen him throw," said Pennington, praising Sanchez's control, ball placement and body language.

"He's definitely gotten better through the offseason. He made a point to take it up to the next level. Kudos to him because that's a decision you have to make as a pro, to listen to the criticism and do something about it."

Sanchez met with Pennington before the Tebow trade, which changed the dynamics. Pennington recalled exactly what he told Sanchez when the trade happened:

"Guess what? Look at the bright side. You don't have to do as many interviews."